Hugh Whelchel is Executive Director of the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics in Virginia (their blog is here).
Like Tim Keller's book (my review), Whelchel quotes from a large number of earlier works (including Keller) on fleshing out a consistent doctrine of work and vocation. I found Whelchel's work helpful in a few areas.
First, he does a good job spelling out the problem of the modern church in expressing a full "Four- Chapter Gospel" that includes God's reason for creation and the "Cultural Mandate" of Genesis-- to subdue the earth and bring things out of it. Whelchel argues that Dispensationalism arising out of the Great Awakening movements of the 1800s created a harmful "Two-Chapter Gospel" that focuses only on personal sin and salvation rather than the role of all creation in God's redemption plan.
"The gospel, when understood in its fullness, is not solely about individual happiness and fulfillment; it is not all about me. 'It is not just a wonderful plan for ‘my life’ but a wonderful plan for the world; it is about the coming of God’s kingdom to renew all things.'"
The Great Commission rolls into the Cultural Mandate:
"The difference between the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission is that the former precedes the fall and the work of Christ; the latter follows these. Otherwise they are very much the same. Of course, it is not possible for people to subdue the earth for God until their hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit...When you answer God’s call to use your gifts in work, whether by making clothes, practicing law, tilling the field, mending broken bodies, or nurturing children, you are participating in God’s work. God does not only send ministers to give the world sermons; He sends doctors to give medicine, teachers to impart wisdom and so on."
In this, Whelchel harkens back to Francis Schaeffer's work as well as Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey's How Now Shall We Live? which was a big influence on me in college. I think Whelchel does a better job than Keller in researching Luther and Calvin's attitudes towards work, as well (he at least includes more quotes from them). Towards the end, he also cites H. Richard Niebuhr's models for Christian engagement of culture, arguing that too many churches have taken either a defense and separatist attitude (Anabaptists and Mennonites), or a "Christ against the culture" mentality (liberation theology). Instead of Christians need to engage the culture at all levels and in all areas. This is best done in all aspect of their everyday lives, including their life at work:
"The fifth and final alternative is 'Christ the Transformer of Culture.' Proponents of this view include the “conversionists” who attempt “to convert the values and goals of secular culture into the service of the kingdom of God.”194 Augustine, Calvin, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, Abraham Kuyper and Francis Schaeffer are the chief proponents of this last view."
Whelchel and Keller have just about sold me on covenant theology at this point, and I am pondering whether I should become a Presbyterian along their lines.
"Until Christians embrace the Biblical doctrine of work, they will remain ineffective, because they will continue to practice a separation of faith and work which leaves them helpless to impact the culture around them for the glory of God and the furtherance of His Kingdom...most evangelical Christians today have no idea that their daily work has anything to do with the Kingdom of God. Paul Marshall in his book Heaven Is Not My Home argues that the escapist attitude of many American Christians has been shaped by a false eschatology which teaches that our eternal destiny is in heaven."
Another contribution of Whelchel is to explain primary calling versus secondary callings. Our primary calling is to follow Christ, period. No other Gods before Him. All Christians have that calling, but we all have separate but equal secondary callings-- to our vocations, our local church, and to civic society. His treatment of the term "vocation" was helpful to me.
"Our vocational calling from God to the workplace is something above a job or even a career. Out of the primary calling of God flow secondary calls to action in certain areas of our lives.
Vocational calling stays the same as we move in and out of different jobs and careers. Our vocational calling is directly related to the discovery of our God-given talents."
We all may have many different jobs in our lives along a particular career path, but it should fulfill the vocation in which we feel called. For some, this may mean entrepreneurship, for others foreign service, for others building and designing things, or working with children, etc. We are to use our God-given talents to reflect the glory of God and spread the Kingdom wherever we're at. Yet, far too often the Church (particularly the Southern Baptist kinds with which I am most familiar) say things like:
“'Did you hear Joe Smith has left his job at the bank to go into fulltime Christian service as a pastor?'” That would be an example of the Catholic Distortion, which devalues vocational work in the eyes of God."Whelchel, like Keller, concludes:
Calvin wrote, “We know that people were created for the express purpose of being employed in labor of various kinds, and that no sacrifice is more pleasing to God than when every person applies diligently to his or her own calling, and endeavors to live in such a manner as to contribute to the general advantage.”
There is no distinction between spiritual and temporal, sacred and secular. All human work, however lowly, is capable of glorifying God...God intends your work to contribute to the restoration of the creation, and the people in it, to raising life on this blue planet to higher states of beauty, goodness, and truth, reflecting the glory of God in our midst...Our Christian calling finds no separation between the secular and the sacred. To God, what we do on Sunday is no more important or spiritual than what we do on Monday. Everything we do should be unified in obedience to God and for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).
The thoughts on this book are mostly clear, though some points could have included a bit more clarity. There were some typos toward the end, the conclusion had a hasty feel to it. But I highly recommend it, 4 stars out of 5.